Australia 'illegals' offered amnesty

Some of Australia's illegal immigrants are jumping for joy, but the government is concerned that others may ignore its new amnesty plan. The country's estimated 60,000 illegal immigrants have until the end of the year to apply for permanent residence. They need only to prove they are healthy and have no criminal records -- the same requirement all prospective immigrants must meet.

The government administered a similar plan in 1976, but officials claim that this amnesty will be the last chance for illegal immigrants to become legal Australian residents. Once the amnesty ends, all illegal immigrants will be tracked down and deported.

Groups involved in working with immigrants worry that many "illegals," especially those who do not speak English and who may not understand details of the plan, will be reluctant to come forward, fearing the government is trying to trick them into surrending for deportation.

The government has been actively publicizing the amnesty. Newspapers published pictures of 42 young Asian illegal immigrants literally jumping for joy after being released from a detention center where they had been awaiting deportation.

The photos were accompanied by statistics showing that, of 8,000 people who applied for amnesty in 1976, only about 10 were subsequently deported.

Most of Australia's illegal immigrants enter the country on temporary visitors' visas and then, once inside, simply disappear. But officials say others slip in through New Zealand, as there are no documents required for travel between Australia and New Zealand.

Immigration officials hope publicity about the amnesty will reach a large number of immigrants and that the immigrants will take advantage of this opportunity. The next few months should tell whether they will.

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